Weekend Wrap-Up for September 24-26, 2010
Bizarro Box Office Weekend: Gekko and Ga'Hoole
By John Hamann
September 26, 2010

Kirk Douglas looks fantastic!

If it's odd, it must be September. This is one of those weekends where the box office could go either way. Openers included Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Would moviegoers be drawn to a sequel where the original came out in 1987? Also new was Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. Would talking owls prove to be a box office draw? Finally, would Betty White be able to propel the lame You Again to some sort of middling success? Or could we just go back to last weekend, when good films like The Town and Easy A debuted to impressive starts?

Our number one film of the weekend is Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the sequel to the 1987 film that carries the ridiculous subtitle. Why not use Wall Street: Gekko Returns, or even Return of the Gekko, or The Gekko Strikes Back (LucasFilm lawyers be damned!)? Regardless, the movie, apparently about money with insomnia, earned a not bad $19 million this weekend from 3,565 venues, which was pretty much on target with tracking expectations, but may have flown below studio expectations. The production cost on this 20th Century Fox product came in at about $53 million, which isn't bad for a high-profile Oliver Stone movie starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan and Josh Brolin.

Was this result what 20th Century Fox was hoping for? Looking at the budget only, I would say that this result is what Wall Street 2 needed to reach on the balance sheet. Still, I imagine Fox was looking for more. I think it could have opened higher, but Fox blew it by not sticking to either of the original release dates. Shot in 2009, Money Never Sleeps was originally supposed to debut in February 2010, before getting bumped to April 23, 2010 and then pushed again to this weekend. Moving from the April 23rd date was a mistake, and I believe it will cost Fox $10-20 million in the long run. While not a blockbuster weekend, April 23rd had the second weekend of How to Train Your Dragon on top with only $15 million, The Back-Up Plan opening in second with $12 million, and a straight drama for adults nowhere in sight (The Ghost Writer was 17th). The following weekend offered A Nightmare on Elm Street and Furry Vengeance as new releases, so the field was wide open for Wall Street 2 to dominate the adult market. This was a month and a half after Carey Mulligan was nominated for her first Oscar, but still a month before Money Never Sleeps opened at Cannes. The bump to September was due to the Cannes stategy, a ploy to engage international markets in the Oliver Stone sequel, and may also have been aimed at the Oscar-friendly, adult-moviegoing time of the year (see: The Town).

The problem is that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps seemed to hit peak interest domestically during the Cannes Film Festival. Early reviews were extremely positive, and the buzz was alive in mid-May. My choice for the weekend to open Wall Street 2 was June 4th - 6th, when Sex and the City 2 fell 60%, and Get Him to the Greek and Killers opened softly. As the summer continued, the buzz fell off for Money Never Sleeps, and then the rest of the reviews started coming in, which were not the love letters Oliver Stone got in France. Critics said this one should have been better. It earned an overall score of 54% fresh at RottenTomatoes, with “Top Critics” coming in at 64%. The reviews make it sound even more like a summer release, but Fox failed to show the cojones to go with that opportunity.

For Oscar winner Michael Douglas, its been a long time since he's headlined a number one film. The last was Don't Say a Word, where he starred with the late Brittany Murphy (whose creepy performance in the trailer sold it). The film earned $17.1 million over this same September weekend, back in 2001. This is Shia LaBeouf's lowest opening since he came on to the scene in Disturbia, which earned a higher $22.2 million to start that bizarre April run in 2007. Director Oliver Stone sees the biggest opening of his career - at least according to estimates. World Trade Center earned $18.7 million, so if the studio went high, that might not hold up.

Second goes to those damn owls. Legend of the Guardians The Owls of Ga'Hoole (the second film out of the top two that has an odd, over-the-top title) opened to $16.3 million from 3,575 venues – about 2,479 of those being the 3D variety. It had a venue average of $4,569. The Owls of Ga'Hoole was expected to open to closer to $20 million, but with that odd title and an odd marketing strategy, this one has been in trouble for a number of weeks. Wonderboy director Zack Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead), stepped down from his usual R-rated resume to make an almost kid-friendly 3D picture (this guy can't win for losing, though, as folks are calling his kid-friendly pic violent). Snyder got Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow to spend $100 million on this hopeful franchise launcher, and production costs were lowered to $80 million thanks to tax credits from an Australian shoot. The companies involved will likely be very happy costs were lowered as this one is in big trouble. Reviews are soft at only 50% fresh at RottenTomatoes, and the somewhat anemic opening won't help legs. At this point, The Owls of Ga'Hoole is going to need an open-to-domestic finish of over 5.0 – and that will only be enough to match its pre-marketing production budget at the domestic box office.

What went wrong? The title certainly didn't help draw anyone who hadn't read the books, and this is certainly no Harry Potter. I find this title remarkably similar to His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, which belonged to the Nicole Kidman “flop” that came out in 2007. It flopped in the US, earning only $70 million against a $200 million production budget, but it was HUGE overseas, earning over $300 million. The Golden Compass was a bigger title than The Owls of Ga'Hoole, but keep in mind that the owls could earn some serious coin overseas. The domestic death knell for Legend of the Guardians came in the marketing strategy, as there was zero buzz heading toward release, no early reviews, no nothing. Warner Bros. laid an egg with the advertising, and will have to settle for middling results.

Finishing third is last weekend's top film, Ben Affleck's The Town. Despite adult competition coming in the form of Wall Street 2, The Town still held extremely well. The Warner Bros. flick earned $16 million in its second weekend, and was off a very good 33%. Gone Baby Gone, Affleck's last directing effort, fell 31% in its second weekend, but opened to only $5.5 million. To have that good of a hold when your film opened to $23.8 million has to be considered more ammunition towards an Oscar nomination. The Town had very strong weekday numbers as well, and outgrossed its production budget of $38 million on Friday, which means this will be a very profitable entry for Warner Bros. The Town has a running total of $49.1 million so far, with $100 million not completely out of the question.

Fourth spot goes to Easy A, last weekend's number two film. Easy A, like The Town, parlayed good reviews into good word-of-mouth, and it sees an okay hold this weekend. The $8 million Screen Gems release earned another $10.7 million this weekend, down 40%. So far, the Emma Stone flick has earned a powerful $32.8 million, and looks to earn more than seven times its production budget.

Opening in fifth is You Again, another Kristen Bell comedy that is more When in Rome than Forgetting Sarah Marshall. You Again took in $8.3 million, coming in around the low side of what tracking was indicating. This is cheap filler from Disney, as the production cost was $20 million. Critics caught on, and the film earned a 13% fresh rating at RottenTomatoes. Maybe Bell should fund a Veronica Mars project.

Devil lands in 6(66)th and actually has a slightly better hold than expected. The Universal flick opened last weekend to $12.3 million, and this weekend dropped 47% to $6.5 million. The M Knight Shyamalan flick has been received by a collective "meh" from moviegoers, and looks like it will quietly slip away. Give a domestic total of $21.7 million so far.

Resident Evil: Afterlife joins the party in seventh this weekend. The Milla Jovavich sequel earned $4.9 million and dropped 51% from the previous frame, where it fell 63% from its debut. The $60 million Afterlife has now earned $52 million domestically, but has already brought in more than $100 million overseas.

Alpha and Omega, the little-seen 3D animated pic from Lionsgate, gets dropped on its head with the debut of The Owls of Ga'Hoole. Alpha earned $4.7 million and dropped 48%. It has a total so far of $15.1 million.

Ninth goes to Takers, which manages to hold onto a top ten spot. Now in its fifth weekend, Takers earned $1.6 million and dropped 45%. The total for the $32 million Screen Gems effort has now reached $54.9 million.

Inception holds onto a top ten spot for yet another weekend, as it takes advantage of weak competition to pull in $1.2 million. It's been in theaters for 11 weeks now, and has a running total of $287.7 million domestically, and is approaching $475 million internationally. Holy Batman, Chris Nolan!

Overall, the box office had a fairly healthy frame in comparison to last weekend and the result from the same weekend last year. A year ago, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs was on top for the second straight weekend, as Surrogates with Bruce Willis and Fame flopped. That top 12 brought in about $83 million. This year, the box office was stronger, with the top 12 taking in $91.2 million. Next weekend should be another interesting frame, as Oscar hopeful The Social Network opens, along with Let Me In, the American remake of Let The Right One In. Currently, both films have 100% fresh ratings at RottenTomatoes.